12/27/11

Five Ways to Anticipate the New Year

What are you anticipating for the new year?

In just a few days, 2012 will sweep into your life announcing warnings of dreadful things ahead (including doomsday reports). But you will also hear hope for the future and promises of God to claim for a positive, fruitful year.

What you embrace for this new year is really up to you. What you "receive" into your mind and heart will likely determine how you perceive your reality. Even more, what you anticipate will affect how you experience the days ahead.

No matter the circumstances around us, whenever we anticipate a bad day, sure enough, something will occur to create some gloom. The truth is, we'll be looking for it. In fact, when we anticipate a day of adventure or success, it shouldn't surprise us that we find opportunities for both.

May I suggest five ways to anticipate a year that will change your life and give your fewer regrets by the time 2013 rolls around?

(1) Anticipate challenges.

The word "problems" sounds so negative. I call them challenges. I'm not so much a problem-solver as a challenge-embracer. How we view life makes a difference in how we deal with life. For example, I no longer say I am overwhelmed in my busy schedule; I am simply time challenged. It's a vital, empowering difference. I can deal with a time challenge by making new decisions, delegating, or eliminating some things; but how do I deal with "overwhelmed?"

Challenges come in the form of difficulties, unexpected circumstances, even trials and "tribulations" ~ things that come to all of us (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12; Psalm 34:19). Adversity and affliction can hit us at any time. Also, God tests the righteous (Psalm 11:5; Job 23:10; Isaiah 48:10; 1 Peter 4:12, 16, 19; James 1:2). When we anticipate that these various challenges will come, we can also, to some extent, decide ahead of time how we will respond.

We can study the scriptures and learn to respond biblically in ways that will empower us, help others, and please our Father God. God will use challenges to develop character and strength in us. We will learn how much we need to depend on the the Holy Spirit's control. The last part of John 16:33 says, "Be of good cheer, I (Jesus) have overcome the world." We can be overcomers, too, because we identify with Christ and He enables us.

So anticipate challenges. Learn how to meet them through the power of the Word and the Spirit.

(2) Anticipate growth.

How do you want to grow in the new year? What do you want God to change or develop in your mind, emotions, body, or spirit?

A few Decembers ago, I began a tradition of choosing a "focus word" for my new year. Last year, my word was "courage." I've written in other posts about how God blessed me through that focus, bringing me "courage stories," a courage rock, and plentiful reminders throughout the past 12 months to help me become a more courageous woman.

I also made some choices that stretched me. I decided to read through the Bible in a short time, take on new ministry responsibilities, and make more time for "difficult" people in my life. God taught me many lessons through these new choices, because I asked Him to do so, praying Psalm 25:4-5. I told God I wanted to learn His ways and heart, and I anticipated growth.

Rather than making "New Year's Resolutions," what choices for growth will you make for the new year? Are they something you can adhere to for the long haul, following God step-by-step until you reach your goals? Are they strong enough to stretch you a little? To cause you to seek greater intimacy with God and lean harder on His wisdom and power?

Taking the first step is sometimes the hardest, but with a fresh commitment to growth, create a fresh to-do-list each month, and maybe a longer "bucket list" of things you'd like to accomplish this year. Maybe you can add an accountability partner or join a group to support your goals. Anticipate positive results.

(3) Anticipate opportunities.

Some people get stuck and believe that things will never change. But I've found that new opportunities come to those who expect them ~ those who are alert and prepared. Seeing new opportunities gives us hope for change; but sometimes opportunities come disguised as difficulties. Often, it's just our perspective.

Do you want to stay where you are and do nothing, or go forward into all the open doors God has for you?

When I said "yes" to God regarding a ministry He wants me to lead, it looked like anything but an opportunity. It looked like an impossibility! But I remembered that back in January of 2011, I prayed God would open doors that align with my heart. When He opened that door, I almost didn't recognize it!

It's said that when you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. The opposite is also true. When you know where you're headed, God gives you road signs all along the way to point you in the right direction. Anticipate them.

The Apostle Paul spoke of open doors in scripture (2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:2). Open doors are new beginnings and new opportunities to follow God's leading in our lives.

Where does it seem that God is leading you? What seems to be His goal or purpose for you at this stage of life? Watch for opportunities He puts in your way to reach that goal or follow His direction.

(4) Anticipate work.

Although opportunities will present themselves, they're sometimes distasteful to us, because they're wearing work jeans. If we want to build something into our lives, we have to put on some work clothes and not expect that good things will just happen to us. God does not honor laziness; He expects us to work (Proverbs 6:6-11;12:11, 14; 14:23; 22:29; 24:30-34; 28:19).

Certainly, you want to pray about every opportunity ~ to be sure it comes from God and that it fits the priorities He has placed in your life at this season. But you can determine right now (ahead of time) that you will be diligent in not only pursuing your goals and dreams, but also every opportunity God opens to you.

Don't be afraid to work hard. Take responsibility. Be faithful in the little details. God blesses diligence and persistence.

(5) Anticipate blessings.
How do you want God to bless you this year? How do you want Him to bless your heart, your home, your family, your finances, etc.? Is your heart prepared to receive blessings from the hand of God?

God wants to bless us with heavenly blessings (Ephesians 1:3) ~ sanctifying us (making us holy through the Word of God, John 17:17), giving us His grace (2 Corinthians 12:), enriching us (1 Corinthians 1:5), calling us into a growing relationship with Him (1 Corinthians 1:9), and so much more.

God often blesses us in spite of ourselves. His grace is amazing, and His faithfulness to His children is well-documented in the Word and in the many experiences of believers today. But God also will bless you as you put Him first and serve Him. As my friend Pam Farrel often says, "God honors those who honor Him."

I end as I began - What are you anticipating in this new year? Take some time to prepare your thoughts and heart. Anticipate challenges, but also growth. Anticipate opportunities, but also hard work. And don't forget to anticipate God's richest blessings!

And remember ~ no matter what comes, you can choose how you will respond.

12/20/11

Feed Your 5 Senses & Spirit at Christmas

What do you remember at Christmas growing up? What memories have you created since those Christmases?

As I think back to the collage of my Christmas memories, I remember the scent of pine trees and cinnamon cookies; the sounds of carolers, the Salvation Army kettle bell, and a crackling fire; the taste of mulled cider and Christmas ham; and the sight of Christmas cards, colorful ornaments, and fresh-fallen snow. I remember the warm hugs from loved ones and friends at Christmas events and concerts.

All of our senses seem to come alive at Christmas, don't they?

Christmas is an important time of year to be sure your friends and family experience all five senses ~ ways of perceiving the joys of the season ~ sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.

Think of some of the ways you can heighten each of the senses in your Christmas celebration. Your choices will be as individual as you are, because you have a unique "take" on the world.

Here are some ideas that you might adapt with some creativity of your own (and some of the suggestions overlap into several senses):

The Sense of Sight ~
  • Decorate your home with an eye to color or a special theme. Encourage children and teens to help with special projects (and don't get critical of their efforts... let them enjoy the process, too!).
  • Let children create unique ornaments for the tree, and show them off to relatives.
  • Make a Gingerbread house... or a birthday cake for Jesus (have a birthday party for Him).
  • Create a natural wreath. Use things you find on a trip to the woods to decorate it.
  • Hang Christmas lights... not just on the tree. Consider a string of lights over the window in a child's room.
  • Paint windows or a sliding door (with washable paint or a "paint" made from powdered laundry detergent and water, and colored with powdered poster paint). Let kids paint their own design.
  • Put up a nativity... or two or more. Help a child make a simple "Nativity" out of items around the house.
  • Act out the Christmas story with your children, or neighborhood children.
  • Plan times to watch Christmas programs together on television. (Tape ahead of time to watch when you're all ready.)
  • Drive to a local neighborhood where people decorate big time (Candy Cane Lane, etc.). Take family members and vote on a favorite decorated house. "Award" the winning house with a plate of cookies.
The Sense of Smell ~
  • Enjoy the scents of holiday baking ~ especially spicy Christmas cookies!
  • Put a pot of cider on the stove to "mull."
  • Linger a while at a tree farm (if you buy a real tree). Smell the different kinds of trees.
  • Bring home some pine branches, even if you don't have a live tree... maybe in an arrangement for the table.
  • Spray Christmas sprays and light scented Christmas candles (if you won't have people with allergies around).
The Sense of Hearing ~
  • The holidays can get stressful. Speak words of love and encouragement to family and friends.
  • Go for a sleigh ride and enjoy the clip-clop of horse hooves and sleigh bells.
  • Participate in caroling with friends, family, or church "family."
  • Read the Christmas story (from the Bible) and other Christmas books (to yourself, and to children).
  • Attend a Christmas concert or pageant.
  • Play Christmas music in your home (consider getting a new CD or borrow one from the library). Listen to music on the radio in the car as you're out shopping, if you have a local station that plays carols and Christmas hymns. Sing out loud in the car!
  • Play instruments, if you know how ~ learn a new Christmas song to share.
  • Enjoy other sounds of the season ~ Christmas music boxes, strips of jingle bells on your door, etc.
  • Write out Mary's song of praise in Luke 1:46-55 in a Bible version you like, and read it at an appropriate time ... or frame it for your wall.
The Sense of Taste ~
  • Make foods/desserts with your family's ethnic background in mind.
  • Sample Christmas foods at Costco.
  • Bake cookies with your family (yes, even small children), and sample some before you store them away. [Our annual cookie treat is Springerle, a family favorite.]
  • I could list all the various "tastes" we enjoy at Christmas, but try some new ones this year ~ maybe some specialties from other ethnic groups, or a sampler of cookies from friends.
The Sense of Touch ~
  • Touch the ornaments on your tree and remember when you got them or what they represent.
  • Drive to a snowy area and play in the snow. Make a snowman... or snow bear... or snow-something! Go ice skating or skiing ~ get some exercise! Or make snow angels!
  • You may have a formal nativity set, but be sure to have at least one nativity that children can play with. They will learn the story as they interact with the characters.
  • Get your hands into some dough and back Christmas bread!
  • Shake a neighbor's hand as you offer a Christmas treat.
  • Act out some of the traditional expressions of the holidays. (How did your ancestors celebrate Christmas Eve? Christmas Day?)
  • Walk through your house and touch the various things you have. Realize that they are all gifts from God ~ thank Him for them!
  • Soak your shopping-tired feet in a warm foot-bath.
  • Hug family members when you greet them (and say, "I love you!).
  • Reach out with an understanding touch on the arm when a person is stressed or discouraged in this busy season.
  • Share, with compassion, to meet a stranger's needs. Give to an organization you trust. Teach your children how to give.
The goal of all of this focus on the senses is to help friends and family experience more than the frenzied gift giving/receiving of Christmas. More important than the gifts we hold in our hands are the gifts we sense in our hearts ... time spent with loved ones, and the understanding that we are loved.

But for believers, there's another way we perceive the joys of Christmas ~ in our spirit.

When I first saw a depiction of Santa Clause kneeling at the manger in worship, I smiled. That's what the goal of our celebrations should be, I thought. We need to do everything we can to point to focus our attention on Jesus Christ. It's more than sporting a "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" or "Keep Christ in Christmas" button. Christmas should encourage us to worship God in many ways and not just on one special day.

I read about a family that makes a simple manger, and family members bring their "gifts" to Jesus all December long (written on slips of holiday paper) ... things they want to change in their lives, things they are grateful for, etc. When Christmas is over, the mother places these "gifts" in a scrapbook, along with photos. The spirit of Christmas is more than things.

We need down-time during Christmas to remember what it's all about ~ why we celebrate in the first place. In spite of cultural elements that want to destroy (or at least, downplay) the biblical significance of Christmas, we still have plenty of opportunities in America to focus on the Lord. If we fail to do that, we have played into the hands of those who want to do away with Christmas.

Yes, I know that the "when" of Christ's coming is often debated; but believers know that He did come. That's a fact. The Christmas season gives us the opportunity to re-focus our mind and heart on Jesus, and to encourage others to do the same. It's the perfect time to share the Gospel ~ the story of why Jesus came. We have to be deliberate. We have to plan how we will point people to Christ.

Perhaps we need to re-create our celebration of Christmas. There might be something more we need to do to focus on the person of Christ. On the other hand, there might be something we need to remove, to give us the time and energy to experience what God wants us to enjoy in Christmas.
Every sense should come into play at this wonderful time of year as we create Christmas memories; but more than anything, let us come to God with childlike faith, expressing our joy in His great redeeming love.

We can say with Mary: "...My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47).

So ... how will you feed your senses and spirit this Christmas? And how will you encourage a God-ward focus in your friends and family?

"Oh, come, let us adore Him ~ Christ, the Lord."

O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord

For You alone are worthy.
For You alone are worthy.
For You alone are worthy,
Christ the Lord

We'll give You all the glory.
We'll give You all the glory.
We'll give You all the glory,
Christ the Lord.


Note: "O Come Let Us Adore Him" was originally the chorus of the song "Adeste Fideles" ("O Come All Ye Faithful"), but in recent years, people have sung just the chorus as the first verse of a song in itself. It is a wonderful song of worship.




12/14/11

Praise for Jesus' Father ... the Earthly One

I am involved with several women's ministries, but that doesn't mean I don't care about the spiritual state of men. It's important to me that men today follow hard after God and grow in character and integrity.

That is why, as I think about Christmas, my mind keeps returning to Jesus' earthly father, Joseph. Unlike the Old Testament Joseph, we know little about this man that God ordained to care for Jesus and His mother. In fact, we would know little about Joseph if Jesus hadn't been born. He doesn't speak a single word in the four Gospels.

We read about him in the first two chapters of both Luke and Matthew. While Luke focused more on Mary's viewpoint and memories, Matthew noted the life of the family patriarch, Joseph (Matthew 1:16). Joseph adopted Jesus quietly, but with purpose, and he was the tool God used to protect the Christ-child throughout his infancy and possibly into his youth (Matthew 1:18-24). Though most artists depict Joseph as elderly (such as this painting by Guido Reni), we don't know how old he was when Jesus was born, and we don't how long Joseph lived after Jesus' birth.

Joseph was a carpenter, and he taught young Jesus the trade. Dr. David Jeremiah writes about him in Why the Nativity?: "He would have liked the feel of wood and stone, the satisfaction of building something sound and useful. We can imagine that, like Mary, he envisioned an orderly and ordinary life. He would pursue his craft, maintain a good name in the community, attend the synagogue, and raise a family." (1)

He sounds like a manly man ~ a man of character and responsibility.

Matthew made sure to tell us Joseph was an upright man ~ righteous, just, and faithful to the law of God (1:18).

But he was also a man who heard from God. On at least four occasions, Joseph dreamed supernatural dreams. When he discovered Mary's pregnancy, he was no doubt shocked, even angry, and filled with anger. Everyone would accuse him of getting her pregnant. Matthew says Joseph intended to gently break off the betrothal, showing that though he was tough, he was also tender.

But the angel of the Lord came to Joesph in a dream and told him about the high purpose of Mary's pregnancy ~ "for the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20-21). Here was Joseph, a man used to practical things, having to deal with the supernatural, and a tough event that God had ordained. Imagine all of his questions. Imagine the tremendous faith needed to believe little Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Imagine what strength it took to face the mockers who would never understand. But Joseph obeyed the command (Matthew 1:24).

Joseph had other dreams. He was told in a dream to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus (Matthew 2:13-15), and when to return (Matthew 2:19-21). He was also told to establish a home in Nazareth (Matthew 2:22b-23). And God knew that he could depend on Joseph to follow through each time.

"The man of wood and stone had to become a man of dream and destiny," Dr. Jeremiah wrote. "Today we know Joseph's name because of his faithfulness and obedience in following every instruction that God gave him." (2)

I believe that God puts each of us in an earthly family with purpose. We learn from our parents ~ we learn good things, and we sometimes learn things we want to avoid in our own lives. Jesus learned faith, stability, practicality, courage, strength, and compassion from Joseph; but he also learned the importance of being sensitive, responsive, and submissive to the voice of God.

It was a lesson that Jesus learned well. We see signs of this desire growing in Jesus at age 12 when He told his family he must be about his Heavenly Father's business (Luke 2:49). And Jesus would someday yield all His will to the Father's will in a garden called Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).

I have nothing but respect for humble Jesus' earthly father. Joseph stood in strength when God needed Him, and then stepped quietly out of the picture. It's almost as if his life echoed the words of John the Baptist ~ "He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30).

This manly man, a practical carpenter, tuned his ear to the voice of God. Joseph obeyed the Lord in the midst of a generation that desperately needed a Savior. What an example for men today.

(1) Dr. David Jeremiah, Why the Nativity?, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), p. 26
(2) Ibid., p. 28

12/7/11

In Praise of Bubble Wrap

I had to laugh recently when I read an email about Bubble Wrap usage (and I will not share the link, because some uses are not too nice); but among the clever suggestions that made me smile are these:

  • Bubble wrapping underneath the wallpaper can prevent it hurting so much when you hit your head against the wall in frustration.
  • Shower curtain for free
  • New-age beaded car seats
  • Carry it around as an emergency air supply.
People have made bubble wrap inventions for years, and it's starting young. For the past four years, children entered a bubble wrap competition, and there were three winners for 2010! The third place winner, MaryAnn Bulawa (14), added it to a toilet tank to save energy and water during flushes ~ voila, a "Smart Toilet." The second place winner, Jared Mann (13), added some to his refrigerator to take up empty space in the refrigerator to save energy. He also used bubble wrap attached to the front of each shelf like little energy-saving curtains for his "Fridge Guard" to keep cold air in when the door opened.

The Grand Prize winner, Matthew Huber (13), pictured above, used each individual bubble in a strip of bubble wrap to test contaminated water for bacteria.
He described it as an inexpensive alternative to petri dishes, and he called it "Petri Bubbles." Such clever kids.

But I think there's nothing quite like popping bubble wrap with abandon. It's a stress reliever, and it can entertain children for hours, if you have enough of it. (I remember my niece Poleigh's children popping some of it in a hotel room while she, my sister, and I caught up on family news.)

It's easy to get addicted to bubble popping. For addicts, there is Virtual Bubble Wrap online; and there are other fun things to do at bubblewrap.com.

The most popular use for bubble wrap is, of course, for mailing gifts ~ especially at Christmas time. It's the perfect, squishy, cushion-y protector ~ if you can find some around that house that isn't already "popped flat."

The author of the blog post "7 Reasons" wrote about giving someone a "a large, fragile Christmas present" that was "covered with a substantial quantity of bubble wrap." The blogger added, "Within ten minutes, the gift had been discarded, and the recipient was clothed from head to toe in the bubble wrap, spinning, and shrieking with delight. She was 32. I believe she still has the bubble wrap."

On June 28, 2010, attendees at the State Fair Meadowlands, East Rutherford, New Jersey ~ 1,456 people ~ popped thirteen 500-foot rolls of bubble wrap in a mad frenzy of fun. I don't know who counted, but the Record Setter report said there were 2.4 million bubbles popped! What fun! (I am imagining all the increased neurotransmitter Dopamine production at the fair that day, as all these people enjoyed the thrill of bubble popping!)

I, for one, think that we should give children bubble wrap, and forget the regular gifts. I saw a cute video of a child that enjoyed the bubble wrap more than her Christmas gift ~ for more than an hour! And another of two children, Christmas 2010, popping the bubbly wrap, too!

Maybe the bubble wrap is, after all, a fun gift in and of itself! Once it's "all popped," it's useless (or at least, I couldn't find a use for it on the Internet ~ any ideas?); but bubble wrap is the very essence of living in the moment. It speaks to the child in all of us. (Maybe I will wrap at least one gift in bubble wrap for each grandchild this Christmas ~ and maybe for the adults! ~ to add to the fun after the gift is opened!)

I found an adorable idea for making a Christmas Bubble Wrap Calendar ~ a crazy advent calendar ~ to remind us that we are about to celebrate Christ's birth. Family members names or initials can be marked under each bubble, so they can take turns popping the bubbles in a count-down to Christmas day. It could be a new family tradition!

I found this picture of one that was placed in a "Christmas Countdown" frame. Or you can dress up the advent calendar with special stickers or Christmas pictures.

And from here, I could write about advent calendars ... but that is for another day. For now, I think I'll make the fun choice to go pop some virtual bubbles.